Smart Ideas 06/05
What: Gamesake, a combination board game/keepsake
Who: Callie and Pam Weiant, co-founders of Jocapa Products LLC
Where: Boulder, Colorado
When: Started in 2003
Playing games is an important part of every childhood--but for sisters Callie and Pam Weiant, the homemade game their mother created for them as children inspired them to become entrepreneurs.
The game had been popular in the Weiant family for years, and the sisters always thought it would make a great keepsake for other families as well. In 2003, they finally decided to go for it with a loosely based imitation called Gamesake. Players write their favorite memories on playing cards and then use them to move around the traditional board-game structure. Players add new memories year after year, and a keepsake is made. Says Callie, "We want people to create memories in a fun way."
Callie, 36, a former lawyer, and Pam, 35, a marine scientist, didn't know much about creating and marketing a game, so the biggest challenge, says Callie, "[was] that every day we were doing something new." They used savings and seed money from family to cover the $60,000 in startup costs--most of which went to manufacturing.
Their first version, Wedding Gamesake, debuted at the 2004 Toy Fair in New York City. Positive feedback from retailers followed, and the pair has since launched birthday and Christmas versions. Sold online (www.gamesake.com) and via independent toy and gift stores, Gamesake also won the 2004 Seal of Approval from The National Parenting Center.
The real coup for the Weiants, though, has been the consumer
reaction. "[It really feels like] we're getting families
to spend more time together," says Callie. With requests for
new Gamesake versions for events like graduations, these
entrepreneurs hope to build on their projected 2005 sales of
Bucks Stop Here
What: Secondhand clothing store where everything is
Who: Jackie and Wayne Bell of Reruns
Where: San Francisco
When: Started in 2003
When siblings Jackie Bell, 48, and Wayne Bell, 46, realized high-quality items were no longer readily available to stock their industrial salvage yard, they knew it was time to change gears. So they stuck with the concept of one person's junk being another's treasure and opened up a secondhand clothing store.
The Bells placed an ad in the local Classified Flea Market newspaper seeking clothes for 25 cents per item. Their first response was from the family of a woman who had hoped to open her own thrift store and amassed 10,000 pieces of clothing before passing away. The Bells were able to completely stock Reruns for the grand opening in San Francisco with that purchase, but they now buy most of their inventory from a nonprofit organization.
Despite initial plans to offer every clothing item at just $1 each, Jackie admits she yielded to the temptation to raise prices at first: "Once I saw all the great clothes, I took my eyes off the larger picture." When six months went by and the partners saw sluggish sales, they returned to the original plan. The day signs went up advertising their new buck pricing, they had their highest one-day sales to date.
Regardless of the stigma second-hand clothing may carry, everything is in good condition, color coordinated and neatly hung at Reruns. "Customers say we should raise prices," says Jackie. "They believe they're taking advantage of us."
In 2004, the Bells moved Reruns to a 4,500-square-foot location
nine blocks away, and they now project 2005 sales of $200,000 to
$250,000. Jackie hopes to open more stores with the same concept,
saying, "Just bring on the people!"
To the Teeth
What: Online destination that provides customers with
information on the major discount dental networks and their
discount dental plans in the country
Who: Josh Babyak and George Michaelides of DentalPlans.com Inc.
Where: Dania Beach, Florida
When: Started in 1999
How Much: Less than $1,000
It was during the dotcom crash that Josh Babyak, 34, and his stepfather's good friend George Michaelides, 52, decided to start DentalPlans.com. Each of their former businesses--Babyak had two gourmet takeout restaurants; Michaelides had a dental-practice management company with about six dental offices--had fallen into the wrong hands, leaving them with huge losses. All they had was Michaelides' website name, DentalPlans.com, and about $1,000.
Due to limited capital, the partners worked other jobs during startup. Babyak used his own paycheck to pay his younger brother Paul to build the website. After work, the three held conference calls, sent e-mails and called dental networks to develop partnerships. A performance-based marketing model--DentalPlans.com places banner ads on other sites in the program, paying commissions on all traffic driven to its site that results in sales--was perfect for the limited-capital startup.
After years of educating dental companies about their model,
DentalPlans.com now has more than 18,000 online affiliates
(including companies like Kmart.com, chambers of commerce, teachers
associations and more) and represents approximately 30 of the
largest dental plans in the country, including those provided by
Aetna and General Electric Co. DentalPlans.com, which expects sales
to exceed $10 million by the end of this year, has grown to be the
most trafficked dental site on the internet.